Souzana Apartian collection - Athens

Translator: Hrant Gadarigian

These items of remembrance were collected during the Houshamadyan workshop held in Athens on November 30, 2019.
This page was produced in collaboration with the Athens periodical Armenika and the Hamazkayin Union.

Even though each of the micro-histories presented in the Open Digital Archive are unique, many bear traces of the collective destiny that befell the Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire; namely deportation, the murder of relatives, survival, exile, and a new life in places outside the homeland.

When Souzana Apartian introduced herself to a Houshamadyan staffer in Athens, it was evident that her family history also carried all of these collective signatures. Even so, it was different, and this difference became apparent when we first saw what "memory" items Susan had brought with her.

There was something big and wide in her handbag that naturally caught our attention. When the item was taken out of the bag, it was still impossible to guess what it was; that unidentified wooden device more reminiscent of a giant turtle.

Souzana would go on to tell us her family’s story, that began in Cilicia, in the city of Sis (present-day Kozan) and the nearby town of Kars Bazar (now Kadirli).

The object she brought to the workshop was a wooden mold that once belonged to her uncle Krikor Apartian (1898-1964). The mold was used to fashion the oud, a string musical instrument. Krikor Apartian was a carpenter-builder in Sis. We know that he used to make ouds, but he also assisted in building bridges.

Krikor’s father was Artin and his mother Soultan. They had five children: Krikor, Aris (Souzana’s father), Lousadzin, Marie/Mariam and Haygouhie. Bedros, Artin's father, had another son, Minas, and a daughter, Varvar. Soultan had five sisters and her father's name was Asadour.

The age difference between Aris and Krikor was some twenty years. Aris was born in 1919 and Krikor was born in Sis in 1898.

After leaving Cilicia, Apartian family members first settled in Greece in 1922. They first lived on the island of Mytilene/Mitilini, and shortly afterwards went to Kokkinia, Piraeus.

Krikor began working with Mourtzinos, the most famous guitar maker in Athens. He mastered the secrets of the craft and in a short time became a renowned guitar maker on his own. The mold brought from Sis really wasn’t used much, simply because the oud wasn’t a popular instrument in Greece. Krikor thus turned to guitar and mandolin making. He opened a store in Piraeus, first on Alipedou Street, later 13 Retsina.

Krikor would affix his label in the soundhole of the guitars and mandolins he made. Early on, in addition to French and Greek used in the label, Krikor would also hand write something in Armenian.

Preserved are Armenian label texts from the 1920s which read: "Krikor Apartian, Piraeus, Cilicia, Sis." We also know that Krikor Apartian was a member of the Board of the Sis Compatriotic Union of Kokkinia in the 1930s.

Krikor’s sisters, Lousadzin, Mariam and Haygouhie, and brother Aris, worked with their brother in Krikor’s workshop. We know that the sisters also made mandolins.

Immediately after World War II, Lousadzin and Haygouhie migrated to Argentina, and Mariam immigrated to Soviet Armenia in 1945-1947.

Krikor died in 1964. Susan's father, Aris, who died in 2003, took over the musical instrument workshop.

To this day, the guitars bearing the name “Krikor Apartian” are widely respected in Greece.

First label used for Krikor’s guitars. It was affixed to the soundhole. Early on, in addition to French and Greek, Krikor would also hand write something in Armenian. Here, in Armenian, we read, "Krikor Apartian, Piraeus, Cilicia, Sis."

Guitar and mandolin handcrafted by Krikor Apartian

Souzana says that after her father's death, she wanted to better understand and experience the daily life and inner world of her guitar-making family. She especially wanted to know why her father never taught the craft to his daughter and son.

Thus, Souzana decided to make a guitar herself. It was a challenge. After gaining the necessary knowledge, she began work in 2014. 

It took a year, but she built the guitar. Souzana notes that it took her father one month to fashion a similar guitar. Her guitar was rated satisfactory for a first try by the experts. Souzana says that a year's worth of work was enough to convince her that making a guitar is task that requires seclusion. "For one year, it was me and the wood; all alone…” she says.

Satenig (born 1932) was the wife of Aris and Souzana’s mother. Satenig’s parents (Yesayi Karamanian -born 1894- and Arousyag Karamanian) were from Kars Bazar. Yesayi’s father, Hovhannes/Ohannes/Ohan Karamanian, and his mother, Gyulenia Karamanian (née Dombourian), were married in 1894. In 1921, they immigrated from Cilicia to Izmir and then moved to Greece in 1922. Yesayi and Arousyag had four children - Hagop, Panos, Satenig/Dirouhie and Marie.

Guitars and mandolins with Krikor Apartian’s brand label and photo.

Krikor Apartian. Migration papers (in Greek) for the Apartian family. Prepared in the name of Harutiun (Artin) Apartian- Piraeus, Kokkinia, 1922. The periodic government monetary assistance given the family is also noted. Harutiun is listed as a baker, 65 years-old, a native of Cilicia.

Aris Apartian busy in his workshop.

Karamanian Family Photos and Documents

1. Receipt dated September 20, 1920 certifying that Ohannes Karamanian purchased a horse from the Hadjin Compatriotic Union of Adana. It bears the organization’s stamp.
2. Another travel permit: This one is in Ottoman Turkish given to Hovhannes Karamanian to travel to Djeyhan.

1. A 1944 document in Greek given to Arousyag Karamanian by the Athens Union of Nazi War Captives. We know that during WWII, Yesayi Karamanian (Arousyag’s husband) was taken captive and sent to Germany for forced labor. Arousyag was a member of this organization.
2. This August 14, 1945 document, in French and English, verifies that Yesayi Karamanian and his clothes had been dusted with DDT powder that year to protect against fleas.